10 New Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography With the iPhone

1x1.trans 10 New Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography With the iPhone

Eric’s Note: This article is written by Misho Baranovic, Melbourne-based street photographer and one of the co-founding members of the Mobile Photo Group

Misho: It’s been over a year since I last posted my ten tips for shooting street photography with an iPhone.  Over this time we have seen massive improvements in the quality of the camera and big changes in how images are shared, particularly through the growth of Instagram.

So, here is an updated list of tips for shooting street with an iPhone. These tips are aimed at iPhone 3GS, 4 and 4S users. (Some functions mentioned will not work with the iPhone 3.)

1. Shoot when the light is good

1x1.trans 10 New Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography With the iPhone

No amount of pretty filters will change the quality of the light. If you can, try to shoot during “golden hour” – when the sun has the softest light in the morning or at dawn.

2. Download Pro Camera

1x1.trans 10 New Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography With the iPhone

Yes, Camera+ has pretty effects. Yes, Camera Awesome pretends to be free (those filters add up). Just download ProCamera! A number of MPG members shoot with ProCamera because of the extra control provided. The following eight tips will help you make the most of the app.

3. Take control of your exposure and focus. 

ProCamera’s Expert Mode gives you manual control over both the exposure and focus point of your image.  Expert Mode can be found in the menu setting on the bottom left of the ProCamera screen (see image below).

1x1.trans 10 New Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography With the iPhone

Turn on Expert Mode as shown above.

As you can see in the instructional video below from Eric Kim’s street photography workshop in Melbourne, I explain how you can adjust your exposure and focus when shooting street photography.

As explained in the video, expose for your subject, play around with where you put your exposure point, and it won’t take long for you to figure out how to get an accurate, balanced exposure on the screen.

In the same vein, you can control the focus point by moving around the blue square (see also tip 5).

The best part of these two manual controls is that they lock upon release.  No more fishing around for tiny little squares like Camera+ and no more unnecessary double clicks like Camera Awesome.

ProCamera lets you intuitively balance both the focus and exposure with one hand while framing the scene.  And when you feel comfortable, you can pre-set both and head out shooting, no longer having to adjust on the fly. Which means you can chase the moment, not the app.

To learn more about this, check out Koci’s instructional video series iPhone Photography, from Shooting to Storytelling here.

1x1.trans 10 New Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography With the iPhone

4. Use the full screen trigger

Do you know what is the most frustrating thing a mobile shooter faces?  It’s seeing the “decisive moment” and then missing it because you couldn’t find the tiny button on the screen pretending to be the shutter.

ProCamera lets you set the whole screen of the iPhone as a shutter.  Click on the Pro button in the bottom left corner, then click on Settings, go to Fullscreen Trigger and switch it to ‘on’.  One tip: try not to press on either the exposure circle and focus square, as this will throw out your settings and you might miss a shot.

1x1.trans 10 New Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography With the iPhone

The ProCamera Full Screen setting screen. The Anti-Shake setting will turn the full screen button into an Anti-Shake button. This works well for set scenes and landscapes, but not street.

You can also use the volume button as a shutter release, but I find it nowhere near as quick as the Full Screen trigger.

The other alternative is to use an external shutter button as found on the POPA. MPG members Greg Schmigel and AikBeng Chia have both shot with this device.

6. Zone focus – just like the old school film shooters 

1x1.trans 10 New Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography With the iPhone

Why zone focus? Because the iPhone has a fixed f2.4 lens, resulting in a very narrow depth of field when shooting on the street.

The first day Olly Lang and myself shot on the streets we were both dismayed that nearly every shot was slightly out of focus.  The auto focus could not keep up with the movement of both the subject and shooter.  So what did we do? We turned to an age-old technique used by street photographers – zone focusing.

Of course, the iPhone does not have any distance markings, so instead, Olly and I have had to go by feel rather than precision on distance.

A few techniques we have developed include focusing on your outstretched hand – this gives you a pretty good minimum focus range around 80cm-1m.  Olly Lang swears by using wall surfaces which are in line with his subjects to lock focus.  I also sometimes focus on the pavement from chest height to give me a standard 1.5m distance from subjects.  These techniques have markedly improved our focus accuracy when out shooting street.

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Use your hand to lock focus (blue square) when shooting up close (between 80cm and 1m).

1x1.trans 10 New Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography With the iPhone

You can lock focus (blue square) on a surface near you, like this wall, to set your focus distance.

7. Expose for highlights

Unlike film, where you can overexpose and bring back detail, digital and especially mobile jpegs are particularly unforgiving – once highlights are blown, they’re blown, leaving white holes in your images.

Using the ProCamera manual exposure technique explained above, a few of the MPGers, especially those living in sunny environments, will expose for a bright part of the sky – ensuring that that highlights are held.

The iPhone 4s has excellent dynamic range which provides a fair bit of leeway during post processing when bringing out shadow detail, especially when using professional editing apps like Filterstorm and Snapseed.

1x1.trans 10 New Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography With the iPhone

Expose for a bright area of the sky to hold onto highlights.

1x1.trans 10 New Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography With the iPhone

Here, I have placed the yellow exposure circle on the brightest part of the wall in order to hold the highlights.

8. Keep your horizons in check

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This is a simple one. I use the grid lines provided in the ProCamera App.  The app provides three choices of grid lines – I use the standard “rule of thirds” setting, as this helps me get things in the right spot instinctively while shooting.  Olly, on the other hand, likes to keep his screen free of guides, so that he is open to experimentation in his shooting.

9. Use the stabiliser at night

1x1.trans 10 New Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography With the iPhone

Most camera replacement apps have image stabilisers. I use the Pro Camera stabiliser because it is accessible from the main screen (toggles with self-timer). The stabiliser is excellent in low light, helping to reduce user camera shake.  Another tip for shooting at night is to expose for the highlights. I often lock exposure on a light bulb or bright window front and then continue to shoot the streets.

To be honest, it is near impossible to get dynamic street shots with an iPhone at night; however, if you are interested in set scenes, or still life, the iPhone 4s will take high quality, relatively clean images.

9. The internet is your friend

1x1.trans 10 New Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography With the iPhone

One of the greatest advantages about shooting street with an iPhone is always being connected. This is hugely beneficial when approaching people or if confronted on the street.  In both circumstances, I am open about my motives for shooting and often explain why I took the photo: “I liked the way the background worked with your coat”, or, “The light here is excellent”.  I then offer to email the image to the person on the spot.  This is a fantastic way to build trust, have a degree of reciprocity, and also showcase your online portfolio.

10.  Get a grip

1x1.trans 10 New Tips How to Master Shooting Street Photography With the iPhone

The iPhone 4 is notoriously difficult to grip, particularly if you shoot one-handed. I recommend a soft rubber case for the phone. However there are plenty of alternatives to get a better handle on your phone, ranging from external grips with shutter buttons (e.g. the POPA and Photojojo grips) or even wrist straps, like the Danglet.

I hope these tips have been helpful.  If you have any other tips that you think I’ve missed or have any questions please share them in the comments below.

About Misho Baranovic

As one of the world’s leading mobile street photographers, Misho’s Baranovic’s photographs have been exhibited internationally in Oakland, New York, Berlin and Paola, Italy.

Misho is one of the founding members of the Mobile Photo Group, an international collective of photographers dedicated to promoting their work and presenting mobile photography as an important and evolving art form.

You can follow Misho work at:

Web: mishobaranovic.com

Blog: mishobaranovic.tumblr.com

Twitter/Instagram: @mishobaranovic

Videos

from MPG member Richard ‘Koci’ Hernandez (approx. 4min 15sec mark), by moving around the yellow circle you can change the exposure of your image.

iPhone shooting techniques

Share any tips or questions you may have about shooting street photography with an iPhone in the comments below! 

Upcoming Street Photography Workshops

If you want to conquer your fears and meet new peers, join me in Stockholm, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, Toronto, NYC, Istanbul & More!

See My Upcoming Street Photography Workshops

  • Walter SHin

    One of the best blog posts in recent months E! Keep up the great work.

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Cheers Walter! Misho is a top guy and a great street photographer too :)

    • http://www.charlieatkinson.blog.com/ Charlie Atkinson

      Ye after seeing this I’m whipping my iPhone out!

  • Guest

    Camera+ does all this for a third of the price: lock focus on a distance, set exposure point (and lock distance), set & lock WB. I’m sure procamera is a fine app, but so is camera+, it’s cheaper and you can ignore the tacky filters. You don’t get the fullscreen trigger, but using the “Volume up” button is better anyways imo.

    I just feel that ProCamera has been presented as the holy grail of iphonography here on the blog lately. There are other great options!

    • Guest

      Obviously you don’t lock distance for the exposure point.. typo.

    • oggsie

      This is not iPhoneography.  iPhoneography is a nebulous term mostly claimed by any sort of image shot with any iPhone app and with often excessive and irrelevant post processing. iPhoneography is not street photography.

      This article contains the best combination of techniques for shooting street photography with an iPhone, which produce the best photographic results. 

      Everything in the end is a process, and the process recorded above with all the advantages it provides is only possible with ProCamera. Camera+ is not a viable alternative. 

      Camera+ does not incorporate full screen shutter trigger. Full screen trigger is essential for capturing images when searching for a shutter button will result in missed photographs. 

      The iPhone does not have a viewfinder, so framing is often done by simply knowing what will be included in the frame from the position and angle of the camera. This sort of framing allows for better composition awareness and anticipation, and relies on the reliability of a full screen trigger function to achieve the intended image.

      I know because I’ve missed shots using apps that didn’t have full screen trigger. You need it, for shooting street with confidence. 

      Volume snap doesn’t let you control shooting with the same precision as full screen trigger! You’re still searching for a button (not a shutter button, but a recessed volume button) rather than concentrating on composition and precision timing.

      And bringing up price? Why? The app costs less than a developed roll of film! It’s a ridiculous point to make given the cost/benefit. 

      • http://twitter.com/polarapfel Tobias Weisserth

        If I get a penny every time I hear someone define what’s not street photography, I’d be able to afford the latest Leica M-9 Hermes edition. Seriously.

        • oggsie

          What are you referring to? I wasn’t defining street photography.

          Your comment doesn’t make any cents.

  • Charlotte

    I wish there’s something like for Android =(

    • http://twitter.com/polarapfel Tobias Weisserth

      I used to have an Android phone. The thing is, most Android devices have really crappy cameras while ALL iOS devices come with decent cameras. That makes a much bigger market to sell decent photo related apps on iOS. Economy of scale.

      • oggsie

        Eh, wrong again. iOS is simply easier to code for than android because you don’t have to consider the permutations that exist between all the different android devices.

        There are several android phones with cameras that are far better than the iPhone 3GS, although not as good as the 4S.

        Android really needs to have the same functions provided by ProCamera before I start seeking out the phones as a street photography device over the iPhone.

  • http://www.steveniphoto.wordpress.com/ steveniphoto

    great article. i never considered zone focusing with my iphone before. interesting.

  • Nabaz Anwar

    great article.

  • Pete

    I downloaded the app. I put on expert mode, hold down screen…no fn focus square pops up. What an fn dud! By American!

    • oggsie

      I’ve seen a 2 year old work it out.

      Check out the videos available and better luck next time!

  • http://twitter.com/SeANMcBAY Sean Magnoni

    Great article. I mainly use Hipstamatic and Mattebox for street but I’ll try ProCamera. None of the apps have all the features I’d like for street. Maybe I’ll design my own!

  • http://www.specialimages.co.uk/blog/ Corporate photographer

    I use pro camera and find it very useful for capture but prefer super retro for filters

  • davewyman

    I picked up the app. A little awkward to work with at first. However, well worth the effort. Focus lock is a great aid – its like getting to use my old Rollei 35 again.

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  • Rich39

    645 pro is probably the the most rounded iphone 4s app now, IMO.

    This link explains the changes in the very latest update…

    http://jag.gr/2012/06/05/645-pro-release1-11-1/

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  • rugfoot

    Some sound tips Misho/Eric. Especially like the zone focussing. But can you answer me something that has been bugging me for a long time. Why would you want to separate off focus and metering?Do you have an examples of photos that use this? I can see for maybe arty shots, but street? Also, are you guys sponsored by ProCamera?

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  • Adamjasonmoore

    When people ask me about how I can get decent street photography shots I tell them simply if you want to improve you need to master one skill, be confident in getting close and sticking your camera in peoples faces. I use a Ricoh GR and as you can see in my instagram feed. Being close and face on with people can give you very interesting pictures from the most mundane, daily situations.

    http://instagram.com/adamjasonmoore

    My recommendation for people starting or having confidence issues is to use your phone as it doesn’t draw attention and a right angle lens adapter like the HiLo shown below.

    Ebay item number 191245036151

    Use the volume button on your iPhones headphone to trigger the shutter, you will be amazed how once you get close how much better and interesting your images become.